Times of Malta, 7th November 2008, by Fiona Galea Debono

The disastrous state of Fort St Elmo is a “national shame” and emergency intervention is required to stop the irreversible damage at the unique monument, Parliamentary Secretary Mario de Marco told The Times.

“We need to save St Elmo for future generations, and if we do not, in a few years’ time, there will not be much left to save,” he said.

Moreover, the longer a place was left abandoned, the higher the costs to rehabilitate it, he added. “As a nation, we really have to try and save these iconic monuments that make us Maltese and reflect our history, but are simply not respected.”

From the tourist point of view, Fort St Elmo was not exposed enough – Dr de Marco feels that what Malta is offering tourists is “only scratching the surface of what we can”.

He said he was in talks with the Resources and Rural Affairs Ministry to see what needed to be done. Following immediate emergency intervention, a concept would have to be developed.

The next step would be to determine how it could be financed, either through EU funding, a public-private partnership, or through private enterprise.

Dr de Marco was not too convinced about passing St Elmo into private hands but he was hopeful that funding would be found for urgent intervention.

“About 1.8 million tourists visit Malta a year. Could we not attract 30,000 to the unique, Mediterranean fortifications and charge them €20 each for a visit, generating revenue for the site,” he suggested.

The three-step action was clear in his mind: “We need to conserve what exists, restore certain parts and decide on a use. We need a long-term vision. To keep these fortifications alive, we need to give them a purpose.”

For Dr de Marco though, these were the details and he did not want to delve too much into them at this stage: “It would be a case of killing the child before it is born.”

Having said that, he had some ideas of his own: Lower St Elmo could be used to host some of the island’s best heritage – the best artifacts in other museums could be housed in what could become a “mini Louvre”.

There was scope to extend the War Museum to move the Armoury down there, or even to create a museum of the Great Siege, which is sorely lacking, Dr de Marco said.

A crafts village would be another option but the bottom line was to come up with a concept that would entice people to visit the fort.

The area was enormous and destined to grow further once the police academy moved out of Upper St Elmo to Ta’ Kandja, vacating another section and leaving it abandoned and without a purpose.

The fact the fort has been left on the backburner boiled down to an issue of priority, Dr de Marco said, refusing to point fingers at any administration.

Awareness of the fort was recently raised when a conservation architect visited it and was shocked at the fact that the walls of buildings dating back to the British period were on the verge of collapse – not to mention the presence of squatters and animals.

“All they need is a kick to crumble,” architect Edward Said had said. He too maintained that its potential use was a secondary consideration, which should not be jumped into just to prevent its collapse.

Together with others, he questioned why so many millions had been allocated to the proposed extension of the St John’s Co-Cathedral museum and none to St Elmo, which could be saved by a mere €2.5 million.

Meanwhile, the Cleansing Services Department has embarked on a “never-ending” clean-up operation of the fort, although the works coordinator maintained that “unfortunately, it seems someone does not want to see the area clean” and claimed the efforts were being systematically sabotaged.

Fort St Elmo was a veritable rubbish dump and 70 tonnes of all forms of waste had been removed in a week-long operation – only to find more, including a wardrobe, being dumped between shifts.

“As soon as we leave, they start dumping again,” the department said, adding that the mounds of waste were also being set alight, which meant the job was further delayed until the fires were extinguished.

The department said the fort, which was also used to create Carnival floats, was normally cleaned after the event, and about 30 tonnes of rubbish collected.

The clean-up operation suffered delays due to logistical problems: only one truck can access the site, and machinery has to be selective.